The Elder in the Room
I was doing some training for a large company this week on Time Management. The people I was training were in very high stress jobs, and they felt that they had no control over their time because of the demands of the company. I could completely relate to their experience, having been in similar environments myself. During the training, I was able to share some of my experiences and help them have a more wholistic outlook on time. What could they manage at work, and what could they manage outside of work? Could they find 5 minutes in their day to take a short walk and breathe? Could they take 30 minutes in the morning to gently prepare for their day rather then adding to their stress by rushing through the morning. They were open and receptive to the ideas and expressed gratitude to have had a chance to be heard and validated.
I think 20 years ago, I would not have had the wisdom or the confidence to present these ideas to them in the way that I did. It was nice to be the Elder in the room!
Sometimes I hear that older adults feel like they have been moved to the side, they’ve become invisible. And it’s not because they have nothing left to contribute. It’s because the invitations to participate seem to dry up. It is also because some of us buy into society’s notion that we are no longer relevant.
I would suggest that what we need to do is look at our own internal ageism. We got our ideas of aging from our parents and grandparents. If the older people around us lived beyond their 60’s, they generally were declining, they appeared to be in poor health. For many of us, there was nothing appealing about the Image of aging that we saw. Now the idea of aging as decline is reinforced by many of the images we see on TV. The older adult is portrayed as technically incompetent, there are jokes about forgetfulness, and so many commercials are about anti-aging products. Without this awareness, we will still make comments like, “aging is not for sisses” or “that must have been a senior moment,” of “you look good for your age.” Those types of comments reinforce our own beliefs that aging means decline.
Today I listened to a program about friendship on My Future Purpose, a program developed by my friends Joyce Cohen and Vicki Thomas. Thelma Reese, one of my favorite role models for aging, was one of their guests. Thelma is in her 90th year, which as she explained, means that she is still 89. As she spoke about friendships, she spoke of the loss of many of the people who had been lifelong friends. She spoke about the loss of her siblings. She summed this up by saying, “the adjustment to being old is different from aging well.” In this new stage of “being old” Thelma is still finding the good in life and is still developing.
It made me realize that aging has stages also, just like the stages of childhood. Most of the people I talk to and encourage are in the early stages of aging. We are in our 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. There is another stage, the stage of old age. This is the stage that Thelma is in. This is the stage that my mother is in. She is 92 and she is still interested and involved in whatever ways she can be.
We are creating new role models for aging, not just for the younger people, but for ourselves as well. Recognizing the lives that many of the older people around us are living takes the sting out of the term ‘old age.’ Thelma and my mother, and people like them, still have a sense of purpose, they still feel useful, and I think that is essential to living a meaningful, healthy life.
On the show next week, we will be talking about Celebrating Aging. Janine Vanderburg, founder of Changing the Narrative, is working to change the way people think, talk and act about aging and ageism. It will take all of us to be aware, to be willing to speak out and to recognize our ability to evolve and develop and grow.
I have to amend my comment about being the Elder in the room. After listening to Thelma today, I realize I am an Elder in Training. I am so grateful to have role models in my life like Thelma and my mother.